By Sean McNamara, For Lootpress
SPENCER – After making the long drive to Spencer to take on the undefeated Roane County Raiders, the North Marion Huskies made just enough big plays Friday to come away with a 13-12 victory and advance to the Class AA state semifinals on the road at Independence.
The victory ensured North Marion a semifinal berth for the first time since the 1997 Class AAA state championship team, but the win went beyond just that as the Huskies took down a tough Roane County team in a cold and tough environment.
“We haven’t won a playoff game on the road since 1992,” North Marion coach Daran Hays said. “I think we’ve only won a handful of road playoff games in school history. Part of that is when we’ve won it we’ve been really good. It’s also partially due to the fact that it’s really hard to beat a good team on the road.
“This was a really good environment tonight for high school football.”
A pair of Casey Minor touchdown runs in the second half for North Marion, as well as a blocked punt by Harley Sickles, a blocked extra point by Brock Martin and a made point after touchdown by Christian Polis proved to be the difference for the Huskies.
For Minor, the two scoring runs were the only touchdowns for North Marion in the game and came as part of a 103-yard rushing performance.
“He’s got guts. He’s one of the toughest dudes on the field every time we take it,” Hays said of Minor, who also finished 3-of-11 passing for 33 yards. “We love him. He’s our guy. He’s our leader.”
Those two touchdown runs and Polis’ PAT were enough points to overcome Roane County touchdowns by Shay Harper on a 65-yard run and Briar Begler on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Greathouse, both of which came in the second half.
In the leadup to the exciting second half was a defensive battle early on, as both teams had their opportunities in the first half, but neither were able to take advantage.
For the Huskies, their best shot in the opening half came on their second possession when a penalty gave the visitors first and goal from the Roane County 1, but North Marion was unable to convert on four consecutive plays and came away empty.
With just three first downs in the first half, North Marion found itself unable to sustain drives.
“They did an awesome job of taking our screen game away from us,” Hays said. “They were keeping us from getting guys in space and they were getting good enough pressure that we couldn’t stretch them vertically.”
The Raiders controlled possession throughout the opening half, running 34 plays compared to 18 for the Huskies and holding a 142-50 advantage in total yards in the first two quarters.
Despite the lopsided time of possession, Roane County was unable to capitalize on the scoreboard as North Marion snatched two interceptions on six Raider passing attempts, with Cody Clevenger and Tyler Curry each picking off quarterback Jacob Greathouse.
Making things tougher on Roane County was an injury to all-purpose player Skyler Delk, who was being used all over the field for the Raiders, notably at the quarterback position taking direct snaps to run the ball while also serving as a passing threat.
“Losing Skyler in the second quarter really put us in a bind,” Roane County coach Paul Burdette said. “It took us out of some things we had planned on doing.”
To open the second half, North Marion put together its best drive of the day, which ended with Minor’s first touchdown run of the night, giving North Marion a 7-0 lead.
While Delk’s injury hampered the Raiders, they still came out firing in the second half, scoring both touchdowns on their first two possessions of the third quarter, but the blocked extra point and a two-point conversion stop kept the home team at just a 12-7 lead.
From there, the Huskies toughened up, forcing a turnover on downs before getting a stop that led to Sickles’ blocked punt.
“Those are things that we rep every day,” Hays said. “We’re an attack team and we go after every kick.
“We felt like coming in that was the one place we really had an advantage in the special teams game.”
Following Sickles’ blocked punt, the short field led to Minor’s second TD run of the game.
A lost fumble by Roane County and several crucial first downs late by the Huskies helped seal the win and send North Marion to the state semifinals.
In addition to Minor’s 103 yards, Gavan Lemley ran for 44 yards in the win, while Landon Frey led the team with 29 receiving yards.
For Roane County, Harper led the way with 129 yards rushing while Begler ran for 53 yards to go with 32 yards receiving.
“It was just a hard-fought ballgame between two really good football teams,” Burdette said. “The breaks went toward North Marion more than they did us, and they were able to capitalize. That’s what good teams do.”
Roane County finishes the season 11-1, and Burdette is said he is certainly proud of his team’s 2022 campaign.
“The season as whole is historic,” Burdette said. “The best we had ever been was 8-2. Coming into this game we were 11-0. We rewrote history here, and these guys have set the groundwork for what’s to come for Roane County High School football.”
North Marion now prepares to travel to take on Independence, which defeated Fairmont Senior in Friday’s quarterfinal matchup. The game time will be announced on Sunday.
NORTH MARION 13, ROANE COUNTY 12
First Downs; 10;12
Rushing Yards; 180;226
Passing Yards; 33;66
Total Yards; 213;292
Fumbles Lost; 1;1
Rushing: NM: Casey Minor 15-103 2 TD, Aaron Hoffman 6-17, Gavan Lemley 10-42, Parker Kincell 5-16 Totals: 36-180. RC: Shay Harper 10-129 1 TD, Briar Begler 13-53, Brandon Richardson 10-22, Skyler Delk 8-13, Jacob Greathouse 2-(-12), Colton Paxton 1-18, TEAM 1-3, Totals: 45-226
Passing: NM: Casey Minor 3-11-0 33. RC: Jacob Greathouse 2-7-2 51 yards 1 TD, Skyler Delk 1-1-0 15 yards.
Receiving: NM: Landon Frey 1-29, Brock Martin 1-10, Aaron Hoffman 1-(-6). RC: Lane Watson 2-34, Briar Begler 1-32 1 TD.
NM – Casey Minor 2-yard run (Christian Polis kick)
RC – Shay Harper 65-yard run (kick blocked)
RC – Briar Begler 32-yard pass from Jacob Greathouse (run failed)
NM – Casey Minor 16-yard run (run failed)